Environment

Plastic Pollution goes Airborne

Tiny bits of microplastics have been discovered in recent months in rainwater and snowfall from Colorado to the Arctic.

They join similar plastic pollution that has shown up in groundwater, rivers and lakes, and at the deepest depths of the sea.

Scientists from the Northwest Passage Project, taking ice core samples this summer in Arctic Canada, say they also found visible plastic beads and filaments of various shapes and sizes in the ice.

Earlier studies have found that plastic has fallen from the sky in Europe’s Pyrenees Mountains, a region near Hong Kong, the Iranian capital of Tehran and Paris.

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Environment

Everest clean-up

Nepali climbers have retrieved four bodies and collected some 11 tonnes of decades-old garbage from Mount Everest and its approach below the base camp as part of a drive to clean up the world’s highest mountain.

Climbers returning from the 8,850-metre mountain say its slopes are littered with human excrement, used oxygen bottles, torn tents, ropes, broken ladders, cans and plastic wrappers left behind by climbers, an embarrassment for a country that earns valuable revenue from Everest expeditions.

The garbage, along with the bodies of some of the 300 people who have died over the years on Everest’s slopes, are buried under the snow during winter, but become visible when the snow melts in summer.

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Plastic Pollution

Humans on Earth eat at least 50,000 particles of microplastic on average each year and inhale a comparable amount as well, according to new research that looked at data from 26 previous studies. Some experts estimate the level being absorbed by people is actually much higher.

The plastic pollution is entering the human food chain and environment due to the disintegration of plastic bags, bottles and other litter, which has now reached virtually every corner of the planet.

Another study cautions that pathogens and other organisms have been found to grow on microplastics in fresh water, posing a potential threat to the health of humans and wildlife.

Environment

Somalia Famine

The U.N. issued a special alert as the specter of famine rose in Somalia due to the failure of last fall’s rainy season as well as the one this spring.

More than 2 million people are threatened with severe hunger later this year, along with the many head of livestock the population depends upon for food and livelihood.

“Herders in the worst drought-affected areas, such as central Galgaduud and in northern Bari and Sanaag regions, have been forced to slaughter the offspring of their goats and sheep,” said U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Somalia representative Serge Tissot.

Plastic Houses

A Mexican engineer says he has an easy and useful way to recycle the untold tons of plastic pollution that now litter virtually every corner of the planet.

Ramón Espinosa says his company, Ecoplástico Ambiental, can convert the ubiquitous debris into strong sheets of “plastic wood,” which can be used to build homes, furniture and a variety of other objects.

He says the formed plastic not only insulates, it also doesn’t crack or degrade, meaning that homes made of it could last for 150 years.

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Environment

Scientists Went to One of the World’s Most Remote Island Atolls. They Found 414 Million Pieces of Plastic

The amount of plastic pollution previously thought to exist around the world may be a dramatic underestimate — because the vast majority of plastic pollution may actually be below the surface.

That’s the takeaway from a survey of plastic pollution on the beaches of Australia’s Cocos Islands, made up of two coral atolls.

An estimated 414 million pieces of debris are now littering the remote islands, and the vast majority of that waste is buried below the surface, according to a new study. But even that is likely an underestimate, a group of researchers reported May 16 in the journal Scientific Reports.

What’s more, because most of this plastic is buried below the surface, and most global surveys don’t look below the surface, the amount of plastic pollution worldwide may be way more than we previously thought, they reported.

The scientists surveyed seven of the 27 islands, which made up 88 percent of the total landmass of the islands, and estimated that they were littered with 262 tons (238 metric tons) of plastic. A quarter of those pieces of debris were single-use or disposable items such as straws, bags and toothbrushes (about 373,000 of them), The researchers also identified some 977,000 shoes.

Roughly 93% of the debris found, most of it tiny micro-debris, was actually buried below the surface. But because they only dug 3.94 inches (10 centimeters) into the sand, and couldn’t access some beaches that are known to have a lot of debris, these numbers are likely conservative.

The amount of debris buried up to about 4 inches (10 cm) below the surface of the beach is 26 times higher than the amount visible on its surface, the researchers wrote.

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Environment

Extent of Plastic Pollution in Durban, South Africa after Floods – Images

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Global Pollutants

Researchers using chemical-sampling wristbands have found that people on three continents are being contaminated by more than a dozen of the same environmental pollutants.

None of the wristbands returned from volunteers in the United States, Africa and South America had identical chemical exposures, but more than half had picked up the same 14 chemicals.

“Whether you are a farmworker in Senegal or a preschooler in Oregon, you might be exposed to those same 14 chemicals,” said lead researcher and environmental chemist Holly Dixon of Oregon State University.

She said some of the detected chemicals “weren’t on our radar, yet they represent an enormous exposure.”

Wildlife

Party Balloons Are Killing All the Seabirds

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Forget about plastic straws: The deadliest ocean garbage for seabirds is balloons.

In a recent survey of over 1,700 dead seabirds, more than a quarter of the deaths were linked to eating plastic. Four in 10 of those deaths were caused by soft debris such as balloons (which are often made of plastic), even though it made up only 5 percent of the inedible trash in the birds’ stomachs.

Seabirds frequently snap up floating litter because it looks like food; once swallowed, it can obstruct birds’ guts and cause them to starve to death. If a seabird swallows a balloon, it’s 32 times more likely to die than if it had gulped down a piece of hard plastic, researchers reported in a new study.

With an estimated 280,000 tons (250,000 tonnes) of floating marine debris worldwide, about half of all seabird species are thought to ingest plastic on a daily basis, the study authors reported. Birds are especially likely to swallow dangerous balloons because they closely resemble squid, according to the study.

Opium-Addicted Parrots Are Terrorizing Poppy Farms in India

Poppy farmers in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India have reportedly run into some trouble while cultivating this season’s crops. In addition to inconsistent rainfall putting a damper on things, flocks of persistent parrots — presumed to be addicted to opium — are rampaging through the poppy farms, sometimes making 40 visits a day to get their fix.

“One poppy flower gives around 20 to 25 grams of opium. But a large group of parrots feed on these plants around 30 to 40 times a day,” one poppy cultivator said. “This affects the produce. These opium-addicted parrots are wreaking havoc.”

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Environment

Marine Areas Around The World Where Plastic Is Piling Up

World map showing marine areas where plastic rubbish and microplastics are collected by ocean currents.

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Environment

Plastic Pollution

Microplastics proliferating in the world’s oceans appear to also be carrying a host of bacteria, some so toxic that they can cause coral bleaching in tropical waters and even bring infections to humans with open wounds. Bacteria known to cause gastroenteritis were also found.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore sampled plastic debris in the waters around the city-state. They found that among the bacteria hitching rides on the microplastics were some useful organisms, such as those that can break down pollutants in the water.

But lead researcher Sandric Leong cautioned that since marine life are eating the plastic, the accompanying pathogens could be passing up the food chain.

Environment

Plastic Meals

Researchers say microplastics were in the guts of every marine animal they examined that had washed up on the coast of Britain, including dolphins, seals and whales.

A team from the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory says most of the particles found in 50 animals from 10 different species were synthetic fibers, which can come from fishing nets, toothbrushes and clothing. They believe the rest came from sources such as food packaging and plastic bottles.

While it’s thought the plastic would eventually pass through the digestive systems or be regurgitated, the scientists say they “don’t yet know what effects the microplastics, or the chemicals on and in them, might have on marine mammals.”

Environment

Asia’s longest river floods sea with plastic waste

The longest river in Asia has become one of the world’s most polluted, with tonnes of plastic waste threatening marine life in the East China Sea and beyond.

The Yangtze River is the third longest river in the world, with a length of more than 6,300km. According to research published in a recent environmental journal, the Yangtze and its tributaries carry 1.5 million tonnes of plastic into the sea each year – the most of any river in the world.

In an effort to save marine life, environmental groups and campaigners in the country are organising volunteer clean-up operations, clearing out plastic along the mouth of the polluted river.

China is one of the biggest plastic consumers in the world. In 2016, package delivery services used an estimated 14 billion plastic bags. And with the rapid increase of food delivery options, it is estimated that 60m plastic containers are used each day – many of which cannot be recycled.